Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Jazz Weekend

I have all these records and from time to time I feel I should justify that by listening to them. Accordingly, I attacked the jazz shelf, reaching not for the canon, but rather for the sentimental favorites culled from the rather unstructured way one found about things in the pre-internet era with the limited pocket money of a teenager.

First up was Weather Report's Tale Spinnin'. I imagine there are purists and rejecters of "fusion" who won't have much to do with them, and their sole hit ("Birdland" from 1977's Heavy Weather) does feel a bit gimmicky. However, on this record, the sheer exuberance of the playing (particularly of trap drummer Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, poached from a Santana session at the studio next door) and the rhythmic complexity, far from any plodding funk moves, is something I've always found kind of dazzling. Also I think the integration of the electronic sounds with the more conventional jazz instrumentation puts it on the same shelf with Herbie Hancock's landmark Sextant.

Following that was Return to Forever’s Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy. I don't know if the science fiction title reflected Chick Corea's Scientology involvement but to a kid who read nothing but Michael Moorcock for a year, LP titles like that were not off-putting. I have always considered the record itself their own perfect fusion moment. Falling between the Brazilian Flora Purim and Joe Farrell phase of Light as a Feather (which I love) and the "progressively" more noodle-y releases of the Al Di Meola era, this one owes a lot to the comparatively unsung guitarist Bill Connors. Hyper-complex rhythms played at hyper-speed, timbres continually exploding with ring modulation and wah-wah – I wouldn’t begin to know how to sell someone on this any further, but have never tired of it myself.

I should think mention of The Paul Winter Consort must mostly evoke yawns and slight shivers of discomfort, as visions of comfortably Episcopalian New Age events at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Saving The Whales, present themselves. I can't help you with that, but will periodically return to "Africanus Brasileiras" which closes the group's 1970 live album Road where the pan-cultural stylistics implicit in the song title do not result in some kind of lumpy porridge; there's a lilting intro, derived from a Ugandan folk melody, which leads into a roof-raising take on Luis Gonzaga's "Asa Branca" with everyone in the group singing harmony. The result quite transcends the original, itself a lovely and key piece of the north Brazilian forró style, which we can hereby credit Winter with disseminating 20 years before David Byrne.

I have many shelf inches of 1950s vocal records of jazz standards and can't always reach past them for the more esoteric stuff. Last night, perennial favorite June Christy's first solo LP (after her Stan Kenton years), Something Cool (1955; yes, I have the 10" release from the prior year as well) was the perfect way to treat my neighbors, sometime after midnight, to the sound of me hollering along with her takes on "I Should Care", "Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise" , "This Time the Dream's On Me", "I'll Take Romance" and so on. Christy was for me an adult discovery, in part because of my probably not atypical impatience as a young person with the perceived corniness of standards. However, these are melodies I love and they carved formative neural grooves, owing to the up-tempo, instrumental be-bop versions, sixteenth notes overflowing, through which I first discovered them all (working my way back to actual country music via the Flying Burrito Brothers and Grateful Dead along a similar axis). Hearing them actually sung with words, and learning to appreciate the elegance of that style of lyric writing has been a fantastic benefit, unforeseeable at the time.

The June Christy record (to my surprise, as I glance at the credits) has a song called "Lonely House", co-written by Langston Hughes and Kurt Weill. Now I imagine I know everything, especially about mid-20th century America, but could certainly not have told you those two collaborated (look up the somewhat forgotten Broadway musical Street Scene for more info!). This morning’s breakfast platter was the title track from Gary Bartz's I've Known Rivers and Other Bodies , which has lyrics adapted from one of Langston Hughes' best-known poems. Bartz is not that polished a singer which lends the whole thing a quality I admire. The record is from the double-LP Live at 1973 Montreux series that also gave us McCoy Tyner's superb Enlightenment; this is music that made me what I am and now it may be slightly rubbing off on you!

After listening to that, I briefly addressed Oregon, continuing the Paul Winter theme. They have also perhaps not aged that well, and interestingly the track I return to most frequently, Canyon Song from the record Distant Hills, is uncharacteristic because Colin Walcott is playing a drum set instead of his customary tabla drums - so they’re kind of trying to rock out with 12-string acoustic guitar, acoustic bass and oboe, which gives it a charm I've never quite managed to summarize – listen for yourself.

Finally, as laundry reared its dreary head, I put on Cannonball Adderley's Things Are Getting Better, from 1958. I've never quite "gotten" jazz vibraphone (Milt Jackson on this one) but I consider that my failing. Adderley's tart alto is supported by Art Blakey, who automatically makes a record good, and some characteristically fine piano from Wynton Kelly. This is a thrift store find of the past decade, but the 1970s association is with NRBQ's second album, Scraps, on which they do a medley of the title track from this record and the Mercer-Allen 1944 standard "Accentuate The Positive" - nice to finally understand everything that was going on in Terry Adams' head at the time.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I love that June Christie record. I only have the stereo version which I understand was a rerecording of the original mono session. I've got the McCoy Tyner's Enlightenment as well. Tyner's style of recreating the universe with a zillion notes flying every which way can tire my ears. To my untrained ear, it sounds like Tyner is essentially emulating Coltrane's style, only on the piano. This style is less fatiguing on the saxophone. That's why when I listen to Sahara, the song where Tyner plays the koto is so welcome and fits in so nicely. Trident also has some nice pieces where Tyner messes around with stringed instruments, which he seems to have a knack for. The Cannonball Adderly record sounds cool. I'll have to keep an eye out for that one.